Zoning issues could slow growth

Part Two of Two

Zoning — often considered a nasty word in rural areas — promises to become an even more controversial issue as the Interstate 12 corridor continues to grow, according to people involved in the corridor’s development.

Lack of zoning outside municipalities will hurt those areas in attracting the best growth, said Elizabeth “Boo” Thomas, president of the Baton Rouge-based nonprofit Center for Planning Excellence.

“There will come a point where really good developers say they can’t risk an investment because of what might open next to it,” she said.

Top businesses “will leapfrog” over spots where less-desirable businesses opened, and some areas will lose multimillion-dollar investments because the parishes don’t have the controls in place to protect quality investments, she said.

“You’ve got to zone,” she said. “Without a doubt it’s going to hurt Livingston Parish” if zoning isn’t adopted.

Livingston Parish Council Chairman Randy Rushing disagrees.

“I don’t feel that zoning will play a big role” in development along the I-12 corridor, said Rushing, from a rural district in the center of the parish.

Rural members of the council have consistently crushed attempts at zoning, said Councilman Marshall Harris, who represents the Denham Springs area.

“Zoning is the most important thing we can do to develop our parish for the next 50 years,” Harris said.

It’s important for protecting people’s homes and for attracting business, Harris said.

“We’re starting to develop some big-box businesses, and they want to be protected,” he said.

Randy Rogers, director of the Livingston Economic Development Council, said the parish would be “better served to have some plan” for land use.

“We may lose some prime areas for industrial or retail development” if pockets of development don’t blend, Rogers said.

In Tangipahoa Parish, which has zoning only in the municipalities, Parish President Gordon Burgess said he doesn’t think zoning is necessary for successful development.

“My experience is that retailers aren’t looking for zoning,” he said. “They just want land.”

Burgess said he can’t remember a single time the parish has lost a business because of a lack of zoning.

A lot of people in the rural areas of the parish are “afraid of zoning,” he said. “They feel they should be allowed to do whatever they want with their land.”

Zoning in rural areas has pluses and minuses, said Bill Jobert, head of Southeastern Louisiana University’s Small Business Development Center.

Without zoning, it’s easier for people to open any kind of business anywhere they choose, he said.

“That’s good. People can move quickly to create a business,” Jobert said.

“It’s easy to start and grow a business” in the rural areas of Livingston and Tangipahoa parishes, he said.

“The flip side is the tin-shed economy” that can keep larger businesses from locating nearby, Jobert said.

“Chain stores are nervous about that,” he said. “Chain restaurants don’t want to open next to gravel parking lots.”

Various types of businesses and industries “are all very important,” but they have different land needs that can be layered, Jobert said.

Retail businesses need traffic thoroughfares like I-12.

The next layer is support and service. Those can be farther away from the high-traffic areas, he said.

“The deeper you go back, the noisier and dirtier the industries can be,” Jobert said.

Heavier industry and the businesses that support it provide jobs and are important components of the economy, he said.

Businesses and industries do well in clusters in which companies that support each other tend to gather, Jobert said.

Creating master plans can help the process, he said.

“The master planning process gets you to the land-use process,” which he described as a “softer way to say zoning.”

Rural people generally don’t like someone telling them what they can do with their land, but land-use planning can help land values, he said.

“If you want to increase the value of land, rarely has zoning or land-use planning hurt you,” he said.

Livingston Parish Councilman Thomas Watson, who represents the Walker area, said government needs to be careful about zoning, though he thinks some sort of land-use planning in Livingston Parish is inevitable.

“Zoning applied improperly can limit your growth” and force some development elsewhere, Watson said.

“You want it to protect people’s property values, but not to detrimentally affect other people’s use of their land,” he said. “You want it to be something that encourages growth.

“Livingston Parish is called the Free State,” Watson said. “Our heritage is based on personal property rights.

“We need to look at what is best for the entire parish and how to attract national retailers into our market,” Watson said. “Stability helps that.”

Homeowners and businesses both want assurances they will be protected from types of development that don’t fit what they have built, he said.

“We need concrete plants and sawmills, but we don’t need them next to our subdivisions,” Watson said. “People are going to demand that we help them protect the biggest investment that they make in a lifetime and that’s their homes.”

Homeowners and some types of businesses aren’t going to want a slaughterhouse next to their property, he said.

Not a lot of people or companies “can buy a big enough buffer zone to protect their own development,” Watson said.

An ordinance to protect them is inevitable, he said, but the parish needs to be careful what it enacts, which is why a master plan is important, he said.

Mixed-use zoning that allows for both commercial and residential facilities can provide flexibility and has worked well in Walker, he said.

Though parishwide zoning is not on the Livingston Parish Council’s table, the council is in the process of having a master plan created for the parish.

Livingston Parish President Mike Grimmer said “protection of property” from incongruent development next door needs to be part of the master plan.

That’s especially important since he expects to see the parish grow another 40 percent by the next census, he said.

Denham Springs Mayor Jimmy Durbin, who has zoning in his city, said smart land use will be important to the growth of the rest of the parish.

“During the next 20 to 30 years, Livingston Parish will see extensive residential and commercial growth along the I-12 corridor,” provided parish officials plan properly to keep it from being blighted by undesirable and unsightly types of industries, he said.

St. Tammany Parish has parishwide zoning and has just completed a comprehensive rezoning project, said parish spokesman Tom Beale.

One of the purposes was to help deal with the future growth parish officials know is coming, he said.

The idea was to create zoning districts based not only on what is best now, but to take into account future growth and help shape it, Beale said.

“We wanted to set up future development in a more organized way,” he said.